The Fight for Peace
Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
August 2, 2015
Ephesians 6: 10-20 (CEB)
Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and his powerful strength. 11Put on God’s armor so that you can make a stand against the tricks of the devil. 12We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens. 13Therefore, pick up the full armor of God so that you can stand your ground on the evil day and after you have done everything possible to still stand. 14So stand with the belt of truth around your waist, justice as your breastplate, 15and put shoes on your feet so that you are ready to spread the good news of peace. 16Above all, carry the shield of faith so that you can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word.
18Offer prayers and petitions in the Spirit all the time. Stay alert by hanging in there and praying for all believers. 19As for me, pray that when I open my mouth, I’ll get a message that confidently makes this secret plan of the gospel known. 20I’m an ambassador in chains for the sake of the gospel. Pray so that the Lord will give me the confidence to say what I have to say.
You have just heard one of the better known passages of Scripture from our Bible. I honestly don’t know why this particular passage is better known than others. My best guess is that perhaps the very tangible imagery of body armor makes for a good lesson, but who knows for sure. Because I can also tell you that you have just heard one of the most controversial passages of Scripture. However, we are working our way through Ephesians and we cannot deal with Ephesians without studying this passage, too. So it is that we have before us this morning the description of the “full armor of God,” and the final great instruction in this important letter to the early church.
I may as well just admit to you all up front that I really don’t much care for this passage of Scripture. War imagery bothers me. I don’t like fighting. I don’t like the thought of humans being engaged in fatal battle with other humans. The gospel is a gospel of peace, and that’s something I value very much. So when I come across a passage of Scripture where the underlying theme is related to fighting and war, it always makes me squirm in my seat. Still, while it would be very tempting for me to skip over this passage, I also firmly believe that there is a message for each of us in every part of the Bible. We just have to be willing to approach every verse with an open mind and heart. And we need to understand first and foremost that the writer here is not talking about flesh and blood war, he’s talking about a battle of a different nature, a spiritual battle. Listen again to verse 12, “We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens.” So it is that in the instructions which follow, we are told to don the full armor of God in order to make ourselves ready for this spiritual battle.
Now, I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to engage in some conflict, I want to know exactly who or what I am fighting against, and I want to know exactly what I am fighting for. And to be honest, for someone to call me to “spiritual warfare” isn’t adequate; that’s not enough information. Maybe that’s some of the reason that I have so much difficultly with this passage. I mean, think of all the so-called spiritual warfare we have seen throughout history and even today; just consider the terrible damage wrought on human lives in the name of “holy war.” There were the Christian Crusades of the Middle Ages that killed hundreds of thousands of innocents. More recently, various groups of extremist Muslims have oppressed and killed millions upon millions in the name of “holy war” or spiritual warfare. I think we can all agree that none of us wants to be associated with that kind of spiritual warfare. So, if you’re like me, there better be a really good reason to pull on the armor of God; I better know exactly what I’m fighting for, and it better be worth it!
Even as this passage lays out the armor with which we should arm ourselves, it also tells us why; that is, the writer gives us hints about what we are fighting for. But here’s the first thing we need to know and understand about this call to arms. The writer’s description of the “armor of God,” is not a description of weapons used by warriors on the front lines; rather, this armor is intended for protection. The weapons described here are mainly defensive; equipping us to endure attack and still be standing up at the end of the day. So, I think the first thing we need to understand is that this call to put on the whole armor of God is not a call for us to be aggressors. Instead, we are to wear the armor of God so that we are prepared to withstand the attacks of the enemy.
When I was in junior high school, I was a forward on the school basketball team. One day, I was playing basketball in gym class at the school; it was the activity of the day and we were divided up into teams with about four half-court games going on around the gym. As we were playing, I pointed out what appeared to me to be a foul by a girl on the opposing team. She disagreed with me, and when I insisted that it was a foul, she “got up in my grill” so to speak and started pushing me around, trying to start a fight with me. I knew that if I responded, I would get kicked off the basketball team and I would be in a lot of trouble at home too. So I just stood there. I stayed facing the girl and I let her push me. I let her hurl insults at me and call me horrible names, but I did not open my mouth and I did not push back. I was very angry and very hurt, but I did not respond, and within a minute, she had stopped and walked away.
I had a choice that day. When that girl started to attack me, I very easily could have gone on the offensive. I could have called her names. I could have pushed back at her just as easily as she was pushing me. I could have punched her, or kicked her, or any number of things. But I didn’t. Armed with some common sense, the knowledge that I’d get in boatloads of trouble if I responded, and a little bit of patience, I took what she dished out, and soon enough it ended. And that’s what this armor of God is all about; these are the tools we will need to endure all the difficulties, challenges, temptations, and evils of this world, and still be standing in the end. We don’t “suit up” (so to speak) so that we can go out in the world on the attack, starting wars; instead, we put on the armor of God so that we can survive the attacks of the world, even as we “fight” for the peace of God’s kingdom.
God has armed us, and in God we must remain strong. This is how we can know peace in our own lives and how we can begin to see peace around the world. The writer has taken the most common elements of armor – belt, breastplate, shield, and helmet – and has reassigned them uncommon values: truth, righteousness, faith, and salvation. Armor, typically a symbol of strong aggression and self-reliance, has been transformed into the symbol of total reliance on the God of peace.
Each of us faces many hardships in the course of our lives. And I think, more often than not, we are tempted to “fight fire with fire” so to speak. In the midst of attack, we feel the need to go on the attack. These days, we watch helplessly as partisanship of every variety rips apart families, churches, and communities. In deep sadness, we are hit with the stresses of seeing loved family members or friends struggle in the face of chronic or even fatal illnesses. But we are armed with the belt of truth, the word of the Lord which speaks hope into the most hopeless situations. The addictions that compete for our attention not only distract our minds, but also often destroy our lives and the lives of those around us. Yet we wear the helmet of salvation, through which comes forgiveness of sins and the possibility of reconciliation in our lives; and we carry the shield of faith, which protects us from future temptations. All around us in this world, there is hatred and fighting, attacks and wars. Every time we turn on the TV we are bombarded with more news of shootings or bombings. Yet in the midst of all this, God has equipped us to be in the world sharing the gospel of peace. It does not matter (it should not matter) what life throws at us. If we can arm ourselves with God’s armor, then we don’t have to “fight” the way the world fights.
Our task is not to perpetuate the ways of the world, but instead to bring the light of God’s kingdom into this world. As the prophet Isaiah wrote, “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord. When we are armed with God’s armor, we can endure the hardship of life in this world even as we work for peace for ourselves and for all around us.
And through it all there is prayer, by which we enter the very presence of God. The moment we neglect prayer, the battle is lost; we run away not only from what troubles us, but also from the protection God has offered us. God is faithful. God does not abandon God’s people: never has and never will. God’s promises are true, and we can be sure that one day God will establish his kingdom of peace, justice, mercy, and love once and for all. But if we are to know the security and assurance of God’s presence in our lives, if we are to see God’s coming kingdom, then we must hold fast the promises of God, connect with God through daily prayer and clothing ourselves in the armor by which we can resist all evil and fight for God’s goodness in this world.
We can fight about a lot of things. We can fight over a lot of things. And that’s what the world does. When it comes down to it, though, most of the fights in this world are not worth it; they are not worth the blood that has been shed and the lives that have been torn apart. Still, there is one battle worth fighting; it is the aim for which Christ has already laid down his life, to establish God’s peaceable reign once and for all. We want to see God’s kingdom come, and if it is to be so then we must cover ourselves with the armor of God so that we can withstand the hostilities of this world. We are not called to wage a war, but to fight for peace.
Today, we come once again to the Table of our Lord. As we now “close the books” on Ephesians and share in this meal, I pray that what we have learned through this letter to the early Christians will be reinforced in our lives as we the partake of this Lord’s Supper. In the sharing of the bread and cup, the life and sacrifice of our savior, may we remember our identity as those called and claimed by God, our call to unity in the Body of Christ, and the way that God has equipped us to give all of ourselves in the work of his kingdom.